issue 255 - May 1994
Albania is the orphan state of Europe - trying now to rediscover its family. For 40 years after the Second World War until his death in 1985 Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha treated the three million people like children in a nightmarish institution. He kept them hungry and poor, without property or privacy.
He turned a third of the population into secret police or spies and took the country into isolation, sending his people to gulags for talking to foreign visitors or listening to the BBC World Service.
A limited reform programme by his successor, Ramiz Alia, made Albanians less fearful of the State and more aware of the outside world. They reacted with a wave of strikes and student protests, by attempting mass emigration and finally by bringing the economy and law and order to virtual collapse.
Elections in March 1992 gave Albania its first democratic ruler - the charismatic President Sali Berisha. He was once a heart specialist of international repute. Now he must perform a heart transplant for an entire country.
He has tried to reinvent Albania as a liberal democracy and a free market economy. In both areas he has had some success. Democracy and dissent are still alive in Albania (in spite of growing criticism of his allegedly autocratic methods). A programme of privatization and the progressive removal of price controls has generated economic growth and attracted foreign investors.
But Albania's problems persist. In spite of the lowest wages in Europe (the average is £17/$24 a month) there is mass unemployment. Albania's industries, many of them environmental disasters, suffer from obsolete and often unrepairable machinery. The economy still depends on foreign aid and private charity, and on migrants' remittances.
Road transport is hazardous, the rail service fitful. Many goods are still moved by hand or horse. Housing is poor and crowded, schools and public property frequently vandalised.
Albania often resembles poorer parts of the Third World with people farming by hand, peasant women staggering under huge burdens and ragged children herding animals. But it can be worse: Dickensian orphanages crammed with abandoned children (40 per cent of the population is under 14). Hospitals without drugs or bed linen; psychiatric institutions, with emaciated inmates in pyjamas look horribly like concentration camps.
Albania's problems are aggravated by its bad relations with all of its neighbours. Two million Albanians live under oppressive Serb rule in the former Yugoslav province of Kosova, a million more in Macedonia, Greece and Italy.
However, if it survives, Albania's medium-term prospects are bright. Chrome, oil, agriculture and tourism have tremendous potential. A people almost desperately glad to be part of Western Europe could catch up with it faster than they imagine.
AT A GLANCE
LEADER: President Dr Sali Berisha
ECONOMY: GNP per capita (1991) $790 (US $22,240)
PEOPLE: 3.3 million (does not include 2 million Albanians in Kosova and 1 million in Macedonia, Greece, Italy).
HEALTH: Infant mortality 28 per 1,000 live births (US 9 per 1,000). Many children malnourished.
CULTURE: Albanians (Gegs in North, Tosks in South) claim descent from ancient Illyrians. Part of Ottoman empire from fifteenth century until independence in 1912.
Sources: World Almanac, UN Statistical Yearbook, Europa Yearbook, Amnesty International, Albanian Commercial Office, The Europe Review 1991/2, Third World Guide 1993/4, The State of the World's Children 1994, Albania - Who Cares? by Bill Hamilton (Autumn House 1992).
POSITION OF WOMEN
Infant democracy and market economy.
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